“Paths are ephemeral and strange, at once obvious and frustrating. This world is wild and dangerous, but the path is usually a safer place to be.”
Young-Hee and the Pullocho follows our young adventuring title character on a fantastical journey through the world of Korean folklore. From her dull life in modern-day Korea, Young-hee finds herself in a Strange Land with goblins, ghosts, talking trees and animals, among other mystical creatures that live in stories. While in this new world, her little brother Bum is kidnapped by an evil goblin. Only if Young-hee can find and bring back the mythical pullocho, a magical root, can she save her brother and return with him to the real world. On her journey, Young-hee runs into all manner of interesting characters expected in this type of epic, both sage and conniving.
Written for a middle-reader level, the language and storytelling is straight forward and simply stated, but Russell’s tale is a unique one in pulling together an young girl’s epic adventure with Korean folk stories. Not only are the characters of those stories woven into the main plot, but an occasional italicized interlude relates the original folk tales in brief.
Despite the intriguing setting and character set, Young-hee and the Pullocho lags a bit in momentum, taking about a hundred pages to get going and draw a reader in. And while I may be over-aged for this book, I find the best young reading books are still appealing at least in some fashion to older readers, and on this front I’d hoped for more. An epic adventure ought to be a bit more fast-paced and page-turning and the plot has that potential, but lacks in the follow-through. I will say that by the end, Young-hee becomes a more interesting character, and companions who join her adventure partway–Samjogo, a three-legged crow, and the silly yet also aggressive Tiger–are endearing.